Working Paper No. 38: Yang Du; Peng Jia: Minimum Wages in China: Standard and Implementation
Du, Yang; Jia, Peng
Published: 2015/11/7 15:24:58    Updated time: 2015/11/7 15:24:58
Abstract: Utilizing various sources of data, this paper describes the evolution of minimum wage system in China and analyzes its enforcement. In 2010, 13% of workers in our sample earn wages below local minimum wages. This result is worse than most of developed countries but better than countries with about the same level of economic development as China. Both descriptive statistics and regression analysis indicate that some focused groups of workers ought to be targeted when implementing the minimum wages, including female and less educated workers. Our analysis further indicates that the effect of compliance in minimum wages is not only determined by the effort to enforcement, but also correlated with the level of minimum wage, economic structure, ownership type, and labor market conditions, etc. Our study also implies that the current minimum wage level in China is in accordance with China’s current stage of economic development, and frequent and large increase of minimum wage should be restrained.
Keywords: Minimum Wage Standard, Minimum Wage Enforcement, Policy Design


        Du, Yang ---- Institute of Population and Labor Economics, CASS;

        Jia, Peng ---- Institute of Population and Labor Economics, CASS



The minimum wage system has been widely accepted in many countries, which makes it one of the fundamental pillars of labor market institutions. The original intention to set up minimum wage is to intervene the market wage rate at equilibrium, so the institution per se is regulative. When looking at the compliance of minimum wage, the leakages exist in almost every country, which brings up controversy with the institution in terms of its effectiveness and enforcement. Therefore, the policy makers should pay attention to how to design the minimum wage system effectively.

It has been more than two decades since the introduction of minimum wages in China. In the past decade, the minimum wage has been influencing the labor market outcomes. The existing studies focus on its impacts on employment (Ding, 2010; Ma et al., 2012), working time (Jia and Zhang, 2013a), spillover (Luo and Cong, 2009; Jia and Zhang, 2013b), and income distribution (Luo, 2011). Concerning the minimum wage per se, however, the policy makers should care about whether the minimum wage is effectively enforced and what affects the compliance of minimum wages.

The first message we need to evaluate the implementation of minimum wage is to look at the share of workers who earn below the minimum wages. Based on the urban household survey data we use in this paper, in 2010 there is 13.26% of workers whose monthly wages are less than local minimum wage. The share is 17.26 and 9.84% in 2005 and 2001 respectively. International comparison indicates that developed countries tend to have good performance in compliance of minimum wage. According to a report by Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), in 2012 only 2.6% of workers are reported to work below the federal minimum wages in United States. Observation on United Kingdom reveals that 1% of workers earn less than minimum wages (Machin et al., 2003).

In contrast, the situation is much more serious in developing countries where the informal employment is ubiquitous. In Brazil, 5-10% of formal employment and 15-30% of informal employment are reported wages below minimum wage (Lemos, 2004, 2009). The share is about 30% in Honduras (Gindling and Terrell, 2010), 16% in Mexico (Bell, 1997), and 24% in Peru (Baanante, 2004).

In addition to how many, it is also important for labor market regulators to know who are not covered by the minimum wage. To target relevant individuals and improve the implementation of minimum wages, it would be of policy implications to understand the characteristics of those who are not covered by the minimum wage and the job characteristics with minimum wage compliance.

The coverage of minimum wage might be the outcome of implementation, but some other factors also have effect on coverage. First of all, the minimum wage per se is related to how easy to implement the institution. It is evident that high minimum wage produces large targeting groups of worker, which increases the difficulty of enforcement naturally. That is why we discuss the evolution of minimum wage in China a little bit.

Second, the general trend of labor demand and supply affects how easy it would be to implement minimum wage. In recent years, driven by demographic change and robust labor demand, the shortage of unskilled labor is more and more frequent and the wage rates have been going up quickly. According to the NBS, the average monthly earnings for migrant workers are RMB 2690 in 2013. It is observed significant trend of wage convergence between migrant and local workers (Cai and Du, 2011). In this context, the spontaneous changes in the labor market would improve the coverage even without further efforts to enforcing the minimum wage.

Third, the dynamics of economic restructuring, industrial organization and other labor market institutions affect the compliance of minimum wage. For instance, it is easy for employees in manufacturing to have explicit labor relations with their employers, which makes low costs for enforcement. The improvement in other employment institutions affects the implementation too. For example, a more regulated Employment Contract Law would make enforcement in minimum wages easier; introduction of collective bargaining would facilitate monitoring the minimum wages at firm level.

To understand the compliance of minimum wages in China, various data sources are applied to evaluate the changes in minimum wages with international comparison. Using micro level data, we analyze the coverage of minimum wage and its determinants. The data include the minimum wages at local labor market, cross country data, and the China Urban Labor Survey conducted by Institute of Population and Labor Economics in 2001, 2005, and 2010 respectively. The survey was implemented in Shanghai, Wuhan, Fuzhou, Shenyang and Xi’an. Both local residents and migrants are included in the sample, and the sampling strategy of proportional probability stratification is applied. The sample is representative at city level. The descriptive statistics and regression is weighted by sampling weights to avoid bias. Too meet the purpose of this study, only wage employment is included.

The rest of this paper is organized as follows. The next section introduces the minimum wage system in China and discusses the impacts of changing standard on implementation. Section 3 looks at the coverage of minimum wage using household survey data. Section 4 analyzes the enforcement of minimum wage and its determinants. The final section concludes the paper.


 - Working Paper No. 38
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